Suzy Hansen on Taraf

One of the highlights of my week is reading The Review, a weekly supplement published by The National, a small, plucky newspaper out of Abu Dhabi that has bizarrely srtrong editorial content. Yes, yes, it is edited by a friend of mine, Jonathan Shainin. That only means that I’m more reluctant to gush than I would be normally. This week’s Review features a wonderful dispatch by Suzy Hansen on Taraf, a little Turkish newspaper that has taken dead aim at various Kemalist shibboleths and that is unraveling the shadowy Ergenekon conspiracy that is allegedly been behind some of the uglier episodes in the country’s recent history.

Ergenekon is, as the Turks beautifully call it, the derin devlet – the “deep state” – a shadowy force apparently connected to the army, plying the strings of Turkish power. The idea of a deep state has been around since the 1970s, but this year the Ergenekon mafia has been formally accused of committing crimes in the name of neo-nationalism, secularism, and anti-Kurdish sentiment. The allegations include everything from the assassination of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink to plotting a coup against the ruling Islamic conservative AK Party. The Turkish media have been understandably preoccupied with the endless stream of sensational revelations emerging from the trial, but Taraf, an upstart daily founded by a book publisher and a team of liberal journalists, has done more than any other paper to place Ergenekon front and centre.

A few things struck me about the article, which I’ll tell you right now is quite dense.

One is that it pays careful attention to the various ways the Erdogan government, which a lot of people have been rooting for, myself included, seems to have gone astray. That is, it doesn’t merely portray AKP as unblemished heroes. I’m hoping that Hansen will at some point write about the charge that AKP is building institutions that parallel the “deep state,” and what I’m told is an uptick in corruption. Also, and this is tangential to the main thrust of the article, Hansen briefly touches on how our ideological categories fit awkwardly in other contexts:

And indeed, people seem to have a hard time classifying Taraf – the word “leftist” in Turkey has been subjected to a number of contradictory interpretations. To Berktay, who is often described as the first Turkish historian to recognise the Armenian genocide, there is a common thread that unites those who support the EU as a way of assuring support for human rights, who support the rights of the Kurds, the right to wear headscarves, and the right to criticise the army for its political interventions. “The neo-nationalists in this country have created their own gravediggers,” Berktay said. And Taraf, he continued, represents “a new morality.”

As if on cue, a commenter responds:

A left-liberal newspaper? Is this a joke? A left-liberal newspaper with nothing but good things to say about IMF and World Bank?

The commenter goes on to note that two Taraf staffers are married to Americans (gasp!), and that one writes for The Economist, as though this was a mark of abject right-wingery. Lest we forget, Christopher de Bellaigue is just one of many Economist correspondents celebrated by the intellectual left (for good reason). Anyway, the piece is worth a look if you have even a passing interest in Turkish affairs. Which you should! I’m sort of interested in Turkey because my first name is very big there. I’m not going to lie to you.

Briefly, Hansen has written another brilliant, brilliant piece for The National and Turkish masculinity and the experience of being an expatriate in the sea of it. Well worth a look.